STURGIS, SD -- As he looked over the smoldering wreckage of what was left of the Full Throttle Saloon Tuesday morning, saloon employee Dean Mauldin said it gave him a sick feeling.
"Eleven years of my life burned up right here," he said.
The rising sun revealed a burned-out shell of what had been a hub of activity just a month ago during this year's 75th anniversary Sturgis motorcycle rally.
Firefighters aren't sure what started the blaze, but Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Shawn Barrows said the call that the building was on fire came in just after midnight.
"It was not fully engulfed at that time," he said. "We saw heavy smoke coming out of the eaves of soffits of the main building."
Barrows said fire units from Fort Meade were first on the scene about 12:25 a.m. Command units from Sturgis quickly followed.
"All the engines started coming in after that," he said. All total, there were about 45 personnel on scene.
The main building of Full Throttle Saloon is a total loss, Barrows said.
When crews arrived on scene the building was locked up.
"We tried making access through the west side walk-in doors, but they were locked," he said. "We came around to the front-side garage doors on the north side of the building and cut a hole in it to make entry to the building."
Crews were going to go into the building, but first used a thermal-imaging camera to scan the inside.
"There was a lot of heat in there, so it had been going for awhile," he said. "Someone mentioned at that time that there was a heavy body of fire in the ceiling area. Shortly after that it burned through the roof."
When the fire hit the area of the Sloonshine Distillery it gained momentum, said witnesses.
"There was a heavy body of fire over in the northwest corner. That's where I hear the distillery portion was, so whether it was caused by the distillery or not, I don't know."
Barrows said he was told by a Meade County Sheriff's deputy that there was 500 gallons of grain alcohol in the building.
"We moved all the fire apparatus from that corner of the building when we learned that," he said. "We ran hose lines over to it, so that if it did break out we didn't have anything coming out under the trucks."
No injuries were reported as of 7 a.m. Tuesday.
A representative of the State Fire Marshal's office in Rapid City had already been on scene and was expected to return later Tuesday.
"We didn't want anybody in the structure until the gas lines got turned off," Barrows said. "We couldn't get the gas lines shut off to the building because the two meters were in heavy fire areas. We turned one off up front and they had to dig the parking lot up to get to the main to shut it off."
There are no fire hydrants or a ready water supply at the Full Throttle. Water is trucked to the site and held in holding tanks on the premises.
That made fighting the fire even more difficult. Crews had to set up tenders — portable water reservoirs made of canvas — from which pumper trucks would draw their water supply.
Trucks would refill with water from a hydrant at Sturgis Brown High School then return to fill the reservoirs back on scene.
Units responding included Fort Meade, Vale, Piedmont, Whitewood, Sturgis, Newell, Sturgis Ambulance, Meade County Sheriff, Sturgis Police and the Red Cross.